Creating Jobs? Too Hard. Florida Republican Instead Investigates Planned Parenthood


You know how jobs, the deficit, lack of health care, and the country’s economic crisis are top priorities?

Florida Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns apparently does not.

Stearns, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, is using taxpayer funding to investigate Planned Parenthood Federation’s “use of federal funding and its compliance with federal restrictions on funding of abortion,” as per a letter he sent to PPFA President Cecile Richards.

He’s doing this even though taxpayer-funded audits have already consistently confirmed that Planned Parenthood follows all the rules.  Planned Parenthood is regularly audited by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Inspector General; state Medicaid programs also regularly audit Planned Parenthood and report publicly on their findings.  Given the level scrutiny under which Title X and Title XIX providers already operate and the state-based witch hunts constantly carried out at the behest of far right legislatures, it would seem to be a complete waste of taxpayer funding to conduct this investigation.

Note to Congressman Stearns: Your own state has 10.7 percent unemployment. Think there might be better things to do?

This newest stunt apparently comes on the heels of failed efforts earlier this year to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding altogether, a goal that Stearns claimed should be a “fiscal and moral priority” of the current Congress.  So now, as states cut bugets for family planning and contraceptive delivery services and as an increasing number of women struggle to avoid unintended and unwanted pregnancies in uncertain economic times, Stearns will further strain the health care system available to the most vulnerable by demanding mountains of records from PPFA and its 83 affiliates, creating make-work for and unnecessary demands on the time of a trusted health care provider that could otherwise be used to serve the health needs of actual live human beings.

The letter asks for records dating back to 1998 for all expenses on Title XIX Medicaid funding, Title X family planning funding, audits since 1991, policies and procedures for finding “criminal conduct,” and on and on and on.

It’s called abuse of power. It’s a witch hunt if there ever was one. Perhaps Stearns keeps a photo of former Congressman Joseph McCarthy on his bedside table.

But no amount of waste is too much for misogynistic anti-choice GOP and Tea Party folk when it come to women’s lives and health. “Wasting” funds on first responders and disaster relief?  No way. Spending millions on a duplicative, ideological audit of a health care provider in order to dismantle family planning programs and deny low-income women health care? Open the cash machine. Deny women access to birth control to prevent the need for abortion? Can’t act fast enough.

In response to the investigation, a Planned Parenthood statement said:

PPFA and its affiliates have a strong record of fiscal responsibility and have, always complied with all laws and regulations applicable to the receipt and use of federal funds.

Similar to other health care providers and nonprofit organizations, PPFA and its affiliates routinely work with government regulators, nonprofit foundation donors, and independent auditors to ensure compliance with all rules and regulations regarding the funding Planned Parenthood health centers receive, whether it is a private contribution, a foundation grant, or federal or state funding, such as Medicaid reimbursements. ;Anytime an irregularity is discovered, it is taken seriously and handled swiftly and appropriately.

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations sent a letter to Congressman Stearns, addressing the issue of abuse of power by stating:  

“We are aware of no predicate that would justify this sweeping and invasive request to Planned Parenthood.  [Prior] audits have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation.”

Lorraine McGill, who lives in Stearn’s Gainesville district, said: “As Rep. Stearns’ constituent, as well as a small business owner and a longtime Planned Parenthood patient, I am angry that Rep. Stearns is attacking Planned Parenthood for political reasons.”

“Planned Parenthood has been my primary provider of women’s health care for nearly 20 years. I go there for my Pap tests, cancer screenings, and birth control. The doctors, nurses, and all other employees at Planned Parenthood have always been caring and compassionate.”

McGill added, “This is exactly why so many people have issues with Congress. Instead of wasting their time and resources on ideology, they should be helping more women get the care they need.”  

While we wait for accountability of corporations, banks, and other entities responsible for the current economic crisis, while people struggle with unemployment, job uncertainty and lack of health insurance, the far right finds new and more invasive ways to crawl up women’s legs. I have this image in my mind of a group of men in a room constantly trying to destroy and missing a target (women; their health; their health service providers), running around in circles fretting about what new attack they can launch while the country falls down around them.

It’s not a pretty picture.

Planned Parenthood is calling for an end to the investigation, and you can sign on here.

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